Earlier this month I was honoured and privileged to be awarded as ‘Business Development Professional of the Year’ at the Made in Manchester Awards (MIMA). with my sister Gemma who was also successful scooping the 'Talent and Recruitment Professional of the Year".
As sales director at Four Recruitment - responsible for new business at the company - networking is paramount to successful business development. Here I give my advice to other professionals possibly starting out in sales on how to be successful and my four steps to effective networking
1. Understanding what networking is
Many people starting out, have an image in their head of what networking is – usually a large room full of people chatting. This is obviously a form of networking but there are many others. They include: online i.e. social media via Linkedin/twitter/facebook, dinners/award events relevant to your sector/product; debates/roundtables; networking around a prospect/current client; …the list is endless!
The key thing when beginning on a business development strategy is to look at your market and decide which are the relevant/credible events and networking arenas . Gain feedback from people you know who attend use them, and request delegate lists so you can assess the typical audience.
There is an element of trial and error when starting out. We could all attend 10 networking events a week but then we’d never have any time to actually follow them up let alone do any actual work unrelated to networking! the key is to try as many relevant ways as possible and then pick the best to continue with.
This is absolutely essential in my opinion to maximising the networking experience. Ahead of any event you attend make sure you look at where it is/how to get there. Getting to an event early is key. It is much easier to begin conversations as people walk in, rather than having to walk into a room full of people which lets face it is daunting for anyone, and slightly akward if you have to interrupt others who got there early and are already in conversations.
If the event is a seminar of some kind, research the topic and get your thoughts together so you can have intelligent conversations should the situation arise.
Most importantly request a copy of the delegate list ahead of the event so you can see who is attending, and connect on Linkedin with the relevant people you want to meet up with. This makes conversations so much easier, as when they see your name on the list/speak to you in person they are already aware of you.
If you’re attending let’s say a roundtable where there are 10 guests this is effective, if you’re going to an event where there’s 50 -100 names on the list use this information when you’re following up the event as opposed to before.
3. Follow Up
There is absolutely no point going to an event if, once you are back at your desk, you get caught up in your daily activities and never speak to these people again, it is a total waste of time!
The best way to follow up is within the next 24 hours of you meeting, make contact with anyone who you directly spoke to/have their business card providing they are of relevance. Remember, that person may never need your service but they may know someone who does.
Within a few days’ post event, go through the delegate list and connect and/or e-mail anyone who you think could either directly be a client or who could introduce you to potential prospects, using the event as form of introduction for example “We were both at xxxx event last week, and I didn’t get the chance to speak to you, it would be great to meet up at some point in the future and hear more about your business”.
I always suggest meeting for a coffee at a time convenient for both to understand each others businesses/remits and to establish how you could worth together. You’ll be surprised at how many meetings you’ll get out of a normal non aggressive yet proactive approach!
4. Be Patient!
Once you have met with a potential prospect/introducer something could come up the next day or two years later. The key however, is once you’ve built a rapport with someone ensure you’re keeping in touch quarterly. I directly say this at the end of a meeting so everyone’s expectations are managed. Ultimately everyone’s priority is the growth of their own business so your job is to keep on that person’s radar enough, so when they do need your services or have an opportunity to sell you to others you’re at the forefront of their mind.
Wherever possible try and reciprocate and pass business to them, I’m a big fan of you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours! I think anyone who thinks they’re a good sales/business development person should be fully on board with this theory but it shouldn’t be forced, it should be because you genuinely want to pass on business/a good contact if you think you can help.